A Motherhood Life Lesson

Photo by Terra Trevor (1986)

My babies are all grown. I no longer sneak off to my writing room to finish that one last page. I’ve learned not to try. Now I’m a grandmother, and it’s easier to just stop the writing for a while. Children are tromping through my house again, requiring snacks, water. Pulling books off the shelves and asking me to read one more story, and then we snuggle with books on our laps.  
With my husband I raised three children. Two of our kids came to us through transracial adoption and foster care in the early 1980s. We waded into uncharted territory, as not only were two of our children Korean (I'm mixed-blood American Indian, and my husband is white) but by adding a foster child who was the oldest, and we later adopted at age 12, we also changed the birth order within our family. Next our son, then age 7, was diagnosed with a brain tumor—an event that changed all of our lives and taught me to let go of expectations and to forge a new identity. 

What has motherhood taught me? 

If could jump cut back to my early years and have a talk with my younger self, I would say, “Terra you have three children and their childhood will run through your fingers like water as you lift your hand to capture a moment with the camera. In what feels like the flick of an eyelash they will be adults, miles and miles on their own." 
If I could step back in time, I would teach my children not to fear mistakes, let them know that failure doesn't exist, and that what some people think of as failure is really only a temporary setback. 
If I could walk in my younger mother shoes one more time I’d say, “Every day write down three things you adore about your children, because you will want to have this list when your kids are grown. You will want to remember and write it in their birthday cards when they turn 40 and 50.” 
I would tuck notes into my pockets reminding myself—when I’m having difficulties, admit it. Line up support ahead of time. Find a good therapist before I need one. Keep my sense of humor. Whenever I can, laugh at myself. And, so what if the house is messy, again, right after I’ve cleaned it. 
Every day I’d tell my children I loved them and let them know they are dear to me, even on the days when they broke curfew, spilled something sticky on computer keyboard, or put a dent in the car. 

If time were returned to me, I’d remember to be kind even when I was sick with a cold, had to work overtime and was in a bad mood. 
I would send myself e-mails saying, "Have more faith because one day the searing pain you feel about your son's death will become softer, and like a river stone in the raging water it will smooth into tender grace." 
I'd write letters to myself saying don't worry, but always remember one of your kids wears a raincoat on her heart, sealed in plastic, to keep out further hurt and pain. She is hurting from from much loss, and years in multiple foster homes. Hug her lightly and often. And don’t pay attention to what the experts say. You won’t be able to solve the bonding problems, but you can give up your silly notions about the way things ought to be, and allow her to go off and live her life, her way, and love will ebb, like waves rolling in and out on the beach. 
Most of all, I would tell myself to let go of my great expectations. To just take care of the moments and the years will take care of themselves. Because things will turn out to be better than what I mapped out and had planned, and that’s a promise. 

Author's Note

Before I was a mother, I have always been a writer. But I never planned to write at length about my journey though motherhood and adoption. It began with a single essay in 1995 and then editors began inviting me to write a series of feature articles, and pen monthly columns and my readership grew. I'm the author of two memoirs, a contributor to 15 books and my essays have appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies and literary journals.

I'm well into grandmotherhood now and I'm leaving a trail of my motherhood footprints behind. When I began assembling a collection of my previously published articles to include here, I found that each one begged for revision. A number of my feature articles were too magazine-y in tone and needed to be reshaped into essay. Other pieces, when further examined with my poet’s eye, had become too pretentious and gave off the full-bodied notion that as a mother I had things all figured out, which of course I don’t. 

I also contemplated my gloomy stories. Although I'm often remembered for difficulties I've faced, I want it to go down in history that there has also been great joy within my journey through motherhood. However, today as a mother and grandmother my life in no way resembles what I had hoped for, or expected it to be, and yet I am deeply thankful for where this journey has led me. I also enjoy seeing how my perspective has evolved and changed over the past four decades. 
Thank you to the editors where these essays were first published.

About the Author

Terra Trevor is the author of two memoirs, We Who Walk the Seven Ways (University of Nebraska Press) and Pushing up the Sky: A Mother's Story (KAAN: Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network). She is a contributor to fifteen books. Her essays and articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Tending the Fire: Native Voices and Portraits (University of New Mexico Press). Her work is also included in Children of the Dragonfly: Native American Voices on Child Custody and Education (The University of Arizona Press), The People Who Stayed: Southeastern Indian Writing After Removal (University of Oklahoma Press), Unpapered: Writers Consider Native American Identity and Cultural Belonging (University of Nebraska Press), Voices Confronting Pediatric Brain Tumors (Johns Hopkins University Press), The Foster Parenting Tool Box (EMK Press), Take A Stand Art Against Hate: A Raven Chronicles AnthologyAdoption Today, Fostering Families Today, and in other books and publications. She volunteered with KAAN: Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network as one of the early leaders, beginning in 1998 through 2016, and as a coordinator in South Korea with KAAN's Friends of Korea Family Exchange Program.

Terra came of age in Compton, California. Of mixed descent, including Cherokee, Lenape, Seneca and German, her stories are steeped in themes of place and belonging, and are shaped and infused by her identity as a mixed-blood. —Photo by Chris Felver

"Terra Trevor's Pushing up the Sky, is a revelation of the struggles and triumphs packed into the hyphens between Korean and Native American and American. From her, we learn that adoption can best be mutual, that the adoptive parent needs acculturation in the child’s ways. With unflinching honesty and unfailing love, Trevor details the risks and heartaches of taking in, the bittersweetness of letting go, and the everlasting bonds that grow between them all. With ‘Pushing up the Sky’, the ‘literature of adoption’ comes of age as literature, worthy of an honored place in the human story." —Robert Bensen, editor of Children of the Dragonfly: Native American Voices on Child Custody and EducationThe University of Arizona Press

University of Nebraska Press

We Who Walk the Seven Ways is Terra Trevor’s memoir about seeking healing and finding belonging. After she endured the difficult loss she wrote about in her memoir Pushing up the Sky, a circle of Native women elders embraced and guided Trevor (mixed-blood Cherokee, Lenape, Seneca, and German) through the seven cycles of life in their Indigenous ways. Over three decades, these women lifted her from grief, instructed her in living, and showed her how to age from youth into beauty. 

With tender honesty, Trevor explores how the end is always a beginning. Her reflections on the deep power of women’s friendship, losing a child, reconciling complicated roots, and finding richness in every stage of life show that being an American Indian with a complex lineage is not about being part something, but about being part of something.